Category: "Elder Scrolls"

Lore Lapses, Part V: The UESP

  03:07:00 pm, by   , 539 words  
Viewed 6280 times since 01/24/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Okay, I'm putting aside my planned rant to just acknowledge the delightful new entry in the ESO Loremaster's Archive, Moon Bishop Hunal Answers Your Questions. Our very own Legoless, "Doyen of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits", got a question answered on the nature of the dro-m'Athra, the Khajiit's take on the Daedra. For those who don't know and don't like links, the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits is the UESP's guild in ESO.

This is actually the second time this has happened. I hadn't noticed until today that "Enodoc Dumnonii, Savant of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits", appeared in High King Emeric's Q&A a couple weeks ago.

Since we've been treating the Loremaster's Archive as essentially the same as in-game texts, it poses an interesting lore question: just what would the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits be like in Tamriel? We've apparently already decided against treating the interrogators mentioned in these Q&A's as canonical figures; see here. But if the devs wanted to build upon the idea of the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits, I sincerely doubt anyone here would be opposed.

But regardless, here's the headcanon I am adopting for the UESP:

The United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits, or UESP, was formed pursuant to the Guild Act of 2E 321, with Julianos as their patron. The never-ending goal of the guild is to build a comprehensive and accurate chronicle of Tamriel and beyond, for the edification and good of all. Its membership rely on each other to seek out, find, and share the secrets of the world around them, one discovery and book at a time. This knowledge is generally shared freely, and members pay no dues. Rather, the guild primarily relies on providing advertisements for various merchants for its funding. They also receive donations from many patrons, notably rulers, authors, and booksellers, who often rely on UESP members for information, trade, and shipping needs.

The guild is headed by a Guildmaster, or Doyen, in each of the provinces where it operates. Its ranks includes Officers, Scholars, Explorers, Recruits, as well as Savants, special operatives of great renown. Though the guild has been plagued by thieves, spies, and other villains who wish to destroy or manipulate it, they have risen to every challenge undeterred, and have continued their grand endeavor for centuries.

Now, I didn't say the UESP doesn't make sense at the start, because actually, the United Explorers of Scholarly Pursuits as described would make a whole lotta sense, in my opinion. You see, the Second Era was supposed to be a dark age in Tamriel. But thanks to ESO's retcon, a lot of the known TES texts apparently have their origins in the Second Era, rather than the Third Era. This premise is counter-intuitive - unless, maybe, a group formed in the Second Era which dedicated itself to supporting scholarship across the continent?

But, we're ironically prohibited from concocting our own backstory at this time. Though Zenimax has arguably given us an opening to create our own little place in Tamriel, and we could partially explain an apparent irregularity by doing so, it's just not good scholarship to fabricate facts on our own. Still, for that lack of imagination, I guess this lapse is on us.

 PermalinkLeave a comment »

Lore Lapses, Part III: Gaiden Shinji

  12:36:00 am, by   , 195 words  
Viewed 9015 times since 01/10/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Gaiden Shinji, first Arena Blademaster and hero of the Thirty-Year Siege of Orsinium, doesn't make sense. Check the dates in the images below.

TES: Arena:

TES IV: Oblivion:

TES V: Skyrim:

TES III: Morrowind first introduced Poison Song, a novella series taking place in 1E 675. The characters know of Gaiden Shinji and the Siege of Orsinium, which contradicts the many other sources which trace the siege, and thus Shinji, to circa 1E 950-980.

Considering that we've been given three different dates for Shinji's Credo, and that a couple other related matters don't add up, I can't help but think this has been intentional. And that makes me suspect that this is a joke. Shinji's Credo may have become the developer's tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the details are subject to change, and that we're just going to have to accept that. Or maybe they're building up to something else?

We're still learning more about Shinji in ESO. For all I know, some new quest deals with or will deal with the mysteries surrounding him. Be sure to read The Great Siege of Orsinium for a couple newer insights into Shinji's life. Next week: more timeline problems.

Lore Lapses, Part II: Plitinius Mero

  12:10:00 am, by   , 1122 words  
Viewed 6960 times since 01/05/15
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Plitinius Mero didn't make sense.


Once upon a time, Queen Barenziah was a paragon of virtue, bravery, and wisdom, so sweet she gave everyone toothaches. At least, according to the fairy tale that is the Biography of Queen Barenziah.

No one really pays attention to this official biography, except to learn a few extra names and have a chuckle. This is because the "real" story appeared in The Real Barenziah (TRB). Promise of slight pornography: fulfilled.

The author is only given as "anonymous" in the text of TRB, but we know that it was Plitinius Mero who wrote it (although even that name is apparently an alias). He admitted as much in the TES III: Morrowind expansion Tribunal. He was presumably the individual who wrote down Barenziah's "private confessions", as mentioned in the TES II: Daggerfall quest Barenziah's Book. Eventually, someone involved in that quest would set the stories loose. Mero's work was defaming to the queen, threatened the Empire, and was fairly lascivious. So it's no surprise that the public ate it up - at least, they ate up the censored version which was subsequently released. The work was ordered banned, and Mero was ordered to be executed.

But then, Barenziah stepped in, and gave Mero a new identity as a scribe in her employ.

What the hell?

After Daggerfall, if you were told that the personal friend of Barenziah who wrote TRB would appear in the next TES game, you would've expected to find that person on a rack somewhere. Maybe there would be a quest where you'd save him from indescribable, endless torture, or perhaps kill him yourself. But no, you find him in the courtyard of the royal palace, with nothing but good things to say about his employer, the Queen Mother of Morrowind. I say again: what the hell?

According to Mero, "She knew my work to be true, and I believe she felt a sense of amusement, if not satisfaction, at the tale's telling. She protected me from the Imperial family, and spread the word of my demise at her guards' hands. Since then, I have traveled with her under this name, acting as her scribe, her advisor, and dare I say...her friend."

I call bull****. Even if you (for some reason) want to believe Barenziah was a compassionate and innocent figure, this is not how rulers react to betrayals of their confidence. I don't care if she'd known Mero since he was born; he doesn't just get a pass for endangering her and her family, especially not with the Empire calling for blood. If that's all there was to their relationship, then this just doesn't make sense.

So, why did Bethesda even introduce Mero into Tribunal in the first place? He played no meaningful part in quests. He foreshadowed an expanded biography of Barenziah which never materialized. For nine years in total, he was just a big, fat loose end. TES fans were left to do what they do best: speculate rampantly. Mero reeked of "to be continued", but no one could be sure what the rest of the story would be.

The rest of the story

Finally, in TES V: Skyrim, we were introduced to The Nightingales (TN), and suddenly Mero's place in the grand scheme of things became clearer. If you take TN as substantively true, then the release of TRB was damage control, not damage. Knowingly or not, Mero was Barenziah's chief propagandist.

That was why Barenziah gave these "private confessions", why an edited version was eventually allowed into circulation, and why she spared Mero. And while this can easily be dismissed as a game limitation, it would also explain why Mero is apparently willing to tell his tale to any doofus who wandered through the courtyard: regardless of whether he's a naive patsy or a trusted and loyal servant, Mero was affirming the story that Barenziah wanted people to believe. Or at least, the story she could tolerate them believing, as it was just damaging enough that apparently no one suspected that it was covering up more embarrassing truths.

There's still room to believe what you want, and even synthesize your own story surrounding Barenziah, Mero, etc., however you wish. There's a myriad of ways to speculate on the truth of Barenziah's life, but Mero's place in it circa 3E 427 has the benefit of being witnessed in-game. Almost everything else we know is just words on a page, but any theory on the truth behind Barenziah's life must be squared somehow with her unusual relationship with Mero. The Nightingales is the only stated version of the story which at least begins to explain Mero, who had been begging for an explanation for nine years.


Now, these last two topics, arguably, depend upon the eye of the beholder. Look at them a certain way, and there's no inconsistency at all. Maybe in this case, for example, Barenziah was really just that nice of a person, that she forgave Mero his transgression and, at a time when she was at her weakest politically, she went out of her way to keep him safe. All out of the goodness of her heart. In which case, Barenziah's story was all wrapped up with a nice bow, and TN was just unnecessary retconning a decade after the fact. Well, I don't know what Disney games you've been playing, but in TES, someone that compassionate is like a unicorn: extremely rare, pretty much doomed to die within a minute of being discovered, and though you can change that fate if you really want to, it's not worth the effort.

The Barenziah which I perceive wouldn't bother to save Mero just for the hell of it. The only way reason she would save him is if Mero was an asset to protect. Maybe if he was an adopted son or something akin to that, that would be another motivation to consider, but I haven't read that story. Maybe it's on its way, but for now, we're left with TN, and TN gives the only credible hint on why Mero was still alive and in one piece when he appeared in Tribunal.

But there's room for doubt, I admit. As I alluded to last week, TES is so full of powerful plot devices and gray areas that you can't be sure of anything. So a "Lore Lapse" will not always be some irreconcilable contradiction. It will often be a topic of the lore where a source, on its face, is simply hard to reconcile with the others.

Next week's topic, though, is particularly hard to reconcile, and is not in the eye of the beholder. It's straight numbers, and they don't add up. Should be short and sweet. ;)

Lore Lapses, Part I: Hoag Merkiller

  04:01:00 pm, by   , 1877 words  
Viewed 9911 times since 12/27/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls, Analysis

Intro: TL;DR

I've had far less time to dedicate to the UESP in recent months. As it stands, it is taking me months to revise one damn page! But giving some much-needed attention to the blog should be achievable. So I will be posting a weekly blog about some inconsistency in TES lore. Don't worry, they will usually be much, much shorter than this one. Believe it or not, this is the abridged version. My holiday rants can get pretty long... anyway, I'll try to get a banner or something for next week.

Now, the aim of this series is not to criticize, but to highlight. I believe that Bethesda (and, to a lesser extent, Zenimax) have created the most rich, wonderful, and well-rounded world ever conceived for a video game. It is one of the biggest reasons why TES has demanded such an enormous following. If you want to dive down a rabbit hole of seemingly endless discovery, TES lore is ready to oblige. Ultimately, I am surprised there have not been more lapses.

Nevertheless, the idea that there is one consistent TES world from one installment to the next, and that we can articulate and summarize it perfectly here, is clearly a hopeless fiction no matter how you look at it. But then, so is the idea that little pieces of paper or shiny coins have value, but we maintain the fiction because there's no reasonable alternative. Similarly, lore editors are typically given no alternative, except to presume that the little scraps of lore we are given maintain their "value" from one TES installment to the next, because the developers rarely give us any sort of notice when they've decided to actually retcon something. Sometimes, they may not even be aware they have done it. It's a big wide world, after all.

There's a school of thought that there's no such thing as a mistake in the lore. Not that the developers haven't made mistakes, but that for any mistake they may make, there's a reasonable explanation for what happened which doesn't break the fourth wall. So when maintaining this fiction for the TES-verse becomes difficult, lore buffs may find themselves bending over backwards to explain away some contradiction without saying something like, "Well, Todd Howard didn't get his coffee that morning...".

I'm not that extreme. I do not feel the need to concoct some intricate story to explain why the Log of the Emma May says "Tuesday" instead of "Tirdas" (Bonus Lapse #1). I do, however, start from the premise that an apparent inconsistency in the lore is just a plot point waiting to be revealed. I know most of them will never be acknowledged or rectified, but if history is any judge, at least a few will get some tongue-in-cheek attention in a future installment. The most beautiful thing about this medium, and about this franchise, is that the solution to every problem can be just one new game or update away. In pointing out these inconsistencies, my hope is that I may, occasionally, highlight places where a plot twist of the TES universe has yet to be revealed. Or at the very least, to get some dedicated lore fans to do some calisthenics as they jump through hoops to explain away plot holes.

Hoag Merkiller and the Conquest of Morrowind

So let's get on with it. I don't know if Hoag Merkiller is the best example to start with, but he's one I've been thinking about recently, and he also hasn't gotten much attention in ... ever. Hoag Merkiller, ancient High King of Skyrim circa 1E 480, doesn't make sense.

Specifically, the idea that Hoag lived in the days of the Conquest of Morrowind and the founding of the First Empire of the Nords circa 1E 240 doesn't mesh with most sources. This implication is given in the Pocket Guide to the Empire, 1st Edition (PGE1):

"In the days of the Conquest of Morrowind and the founding of the First Empire, the great Nord war chiefs - Derek the Tall, Jorg Helmbolg, Hoag Merkiller - were all Tongues."

PGE1 contains a lot of debunked and controverted information (so expect it to pop up quite a bit in this series). Not to criticize the writing itself; it is superb. PGE1 laid much of the framework for the lore which followed. It's just that if you're looking for solid TES fact, the fictional author of PGE1 has proven to be particularly unreliable due to bias and an often cosmetic understanding of the cultures which were being summarized. And it is, of course, usually impossible to be truly certain whether PGE1 info has been "retconned", or if those devious lore writers never meant for that info to be accurate in the first place.

Rough timeline of the Skyrim Conquests and Hoag Merkiller

We don't know when Merkiller was born, but Five Songs of King Wulfharth says he was slain when the Alessians were defeated at the Battle of Glenumbra Moors, an event which is dated to 1E 480 or 482 (Bonus Lapse #2). But the First Empire as we know it fell apart decades before that, in the War of Succession from 1E 369-1E 420. The Nords had been driven out of Morrowind by the united Chimer and Dwemer in 1E 416. PGE1 itself gives the impression that the First Empire was at its peak around 1E 290, about fifty years into the Skyrim Conquests. So to me, it seems like the founding days of the First Empire and the Conquest of Morrowind should be traced to the third century of the First Era, not the fifth century. It doesn't seem like Merkiller could've been around for the First Empire's end, let alone its founding. You would have to conflate the founding of the First Empire with its entire known existence, and then some, for that to make sense.

Scholarly error on the part of the in-character PGE1 author is a tempting explanation. Whomever wrote it was presumably an Imperial scholar, taking stories from Nords they meet (i.e., drunks in bars), and it's plausible they just got the wrong impression about Hoag's place in Skyrim's history, especially given what we know of the quality of the First Pocket Guide's scholarship in general. The implication may have been unintended from the start, brought on by imprecise generalities. We are talking about a scholar who is making a general reference to a time period over three thousand years before he lived. What difference is a couple centuries? If that satisfies you, then skip the rest; thanks for trudging this far!

The dilemma with writing off anything as scholarly error, however, is that it is Boring, And Therefore Wrong. This is and should be the guiding principle in anyone's interpretation of TES lore. The Falmer are just a Nordic myth. Boring, And Therefore Wrong. Alduin is another name for Akatosh. Boring, And Therefore Wrong. The PGE1 author just erroneously conflated Hoag Merkiller with the conquerors of Morrowind and founders of the First Empire. Boring, And Therefore Wrong? TES lore is replete with scholarly error, but it is often impossible to tell which errors are intentional, or whether it's a loose end the developers ever intend on touching upon in a future work. I'm sure the majority of us could agree this is just a mistake/miscommunication which will likely never get addressed, and we'll continue to agree on that - right up until it is addressed.

So, perhaps Hoag led an exceptionally long life with magic; there's one or two ancient Nordic myths regarding the manipulation of the Nordic lifespan, and the full truth may have plausibly been lost to time. Or, heck, screw Occam's Razor: perhaps there were two Nordic leaders named Hoag Merkiller in the early First Era. If you want to get really freaky with it, perhaps we might be dealing with different kalpas (whatever that truly means). The possibilities are literally endless - but what else can you expect in a fantasy video game world.

But like I said earlier, you would have to conflate the entirety of the First Empire's known existence with its founding in order for PGE1's statement to really make sense with what we know of Hoag Merkiller. Well, what if that were the case? "Founding" is a relative term. A newer association might count its founding days in years or decades, but an older association's founding days could be stretched over centuries. It would be a lot more reasonable to say that Hoag lived in the founding days of the First Empire if the First Empire existed for, say, one thousand years, instead of two hundred.

It's worth noting that, as far as I know, we've never been given a precise date of when the Nord's First Empire ended. We're not even entirely sure why it's called their First Empire, because it's not like there's any mention of a second one! We've been given dates on the Skyrim Conquests, but those don't necessarily correspond to the beginning and end of the First Empire. So, the First Empire may have existed, at least in name, for centuries upon centuries after the Skyrim Conquests ended, except it became composed of only Nordic kingdoms within Skyrim by 1E 420, and likely never truly recovered after that. Then, untold years down the line, it was presumably dissolved in some later First Era political shake-up.

So, the point is, the PGE1 statement could reasonably be construed as true if the First Empire of the Nords was considered to have survived until a great deal of time after the War of Succession. Several centuries, at least. While it may seem ironic to suggest that the First Empire was being "founded" during a time when most would consider it to be falling apart, it has the benefit of treating all sources as true without actually resorting to a "scholarly error" explanation. Furthermore, it's something we kind of expect to see anyways. Both in the game and in real life, empires tend to linger on long after their glory days have faded, often in name only.

But for now, details on the First Empire of the Nords are few and far between, and so are definitive answers. Things like Merkiller and the First Empire were topics which we expected to get a lot of treatment in TES V: Skyrim, given the setting, but we ended up with far less detail than lore fans are accustomed to receiving. The First Empire is explicitly mentioned a grand total of five times in Skyrim, and these were all basically passing references which told us next to nothing. Hoag Merkiller actually gets more attention from ESO than he got from Skyrim, simply by virtue of a passing mention in a loading screen!

Anyway, this is just one of the many situations where we're forced to parcel out information on one topic from many different sources. Hopefully, this has helped to convey the myriad of concerns and questions which are created when two or more sources become hard to reconcile. Happy holidays, everyone. Next week, I'll talk about an inconsistency which has been addressed and, in my opinion, rectified. Hopefully, it will help give you a sense of why even the slightest inconsistency can turn out to be the clue to a whole new understanding of TES lore. And it'll be fun, because it'll be slightly pornographic.

PAXPrime! Seattle 2014

  10:27:00 pm, by Jeancey   , 696 words  
Viewed 31925 times since 09/17/14
Categories: Elder Scrolls

Hey everybody! Jeancey here! I spent the holiday weekend doing something I'm sure most of you would enjoy, attending a gaming convention, the Penny Arcade Expo! For those of you who don't know, the Penny Arcade Expo, usually abbreviated as PAX, is a yearly gaming convention which started in Seattle. There are other PAX events at different times of the year and in different locations around the world, but PAXPrime is, in my opinion, the best.

The ESO PAX Booth

Full story »